1. Know the symptoms.
Early symptoms are easy to ignore and may include bloating, abdominal pain, feeling full quickly, and frequent urination. Other symptoms include fatigue, irregular vaginal bleeding, unexplained weight gain or weight loss, constipation, and back pain. If you experience any of these symptoms for two weeks and they are not normal for you, consult a physician and, if appropriate, ask for additional testing to see if your ovaries have abnormalities. The signs may be non-cancer related issues but it’s good to have them evaluated by a doctor.
2. Pap tests do not detect ovarian cancer.
Many patients believe that a clean Pap test means that they are clear of ovarian cancer. This is not the case. A Pap test diagnoses cervical disease and is not a tool to diagnose ovarian cancer. No routine screening is available for ovarian cancer.
3. Know the risk factors.
A woman’s risk of developing ovarian cancer is about 1 in 78, according to the American Cancer Society. One of the best ways to evaluate your risk is based on your personal and family history. About 20% to 25% of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer have a family history of the disease.
Genetics can play a role. The most significant risk factor for ovarian cancer is inheriting a genetic mutation recognized as being at-risk for ovarian cancer such as BRCA1 (breast cancer gene 1) or BRCA2 (breast cancer gene 2). Since genes such as these are linked to both breast and ovarian cancer, women who have had breast cancer are at an increased risk of ovarian cancer. Uterine, colon, and rectal cancers are also associated with an increased risk of ovarian cancer. To determine if you are at risk of ovarian cancer, you should consider being evaluated by a board-certified genetic counselor.
Other risk factors include increasing age, obesity, infertility, having children later, and never having a full-term pregnancy.